Sunday Sermon for July 29, 2018, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: 2Ki 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15
In the second reading today St. Paul encourages the Ephesians to “live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” He implores them to live in humility, gentleness, patience, charity, and peace. Needless to say, we all have enough experience of human nature to know these virtues are not natural to us, so St. Paul calls upon the Holy Trinity as well as the faith and hope given to us at our baptism, to help us live in accordance with the dignity of our call.
As Christians, everything St. Paul says in this passage is of great importance for us, but skeptics might wonder if there is some ulterior motive in the Saint’s exhortation. It is critical to note that St. Paul is writing from prison; he is not seeking any aid from the Ephesians, nor is he asking for anything for himself. One would think that if his preaching had been motivated by selfish gain, he would either be seeking more for himself or trying to seek forgiveness for using people instead of preaching the truth in love for their benefit. With no reasonable possibility of selfishness or fraud, St. Paul continues to teach what is for the good of his audience.
This being the case, we have to look at ourselves in the light of St. Paul’s message. We have been baptized and, therefore, received a call from God. We are the children of God who are to live in accord with the dignity of our call. Moreover, our call, as we see in the second reading, comes from the Most Holy Trinity: one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father of all.
We are called through the grace of God, but we also need His grace to help us to live according to the dignity of our call. In the Gospel reading St. John presents our Lord as the fulfillment of what was spoken by Moses and the Prophets. The sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel is the chapter on the Eucharist; the reading we have today provides the context for our Lord’s explanation of His greatest Gift.
This passage shows our Lord to be greater than the Prophets of the Old Testament. For instance, in the first reading we hear about the Prophet Elisha and how he fed one hundred people with twenty barley loaves and had some left over. We are not told how much was left over, but the passage suggests it was not a huge amount.
In the Gospel reading, by contrast, we hear of our Lord feeding five thousand men with five barley loaves and two fish (this does not include women and children, so it may have been fifteen thousand or more). When the people had eaten their fill, the left over fragments of bread filled twelve wicker baskets. Our Lord does more with less and shows Himself greater than the Prophets.
The people recognize this and proclaim: “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” This is the Prophet spoken of in the Book of Deuteronomy when Moses states that God will raise up a prophet like himself (Moses) whom the people must obey. The verses following today’s Gospel demonstrate Jesus to be greater than Moses, but that is for another day.
We readily profess our faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity Who became Incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the blessed womb of the Virgin Mary. Our profession of faith is not made in ignorance, but it is based on the words and deeds of our Lord. Like the people of Israel, knowing our Lord is the Promised One, we need to listen to Him and obey Him.
We also need to know Him because we are not only made in His image and likeness, in baptism we become members of His Mystical Person. This means our Lord has not only called us, but He has united us to Himself: giving us a participation in His nature, His life, and His mission in the world.
To know and love our Lord requires a deep prayer life. Thankfully, He is present with us in the Holy Eucharist so we can receive Him, we can unite ourselves with Him, we can give ourselves to Him as He gives Himself to us so it is two persons giving all to the other and receiving all from the other. We can also spend time with our Lord truly present in the Eucharist in order to know Him more perfectly and be transformed into the One we love.
St. Paul knew this mystery and insists that we live a life of virtue because our lives are a continuation of Christ’s own life. This is our dignity; this is our call.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.